Mission, History, and Challenges


The ISN mission is to help the US Army and other US military services dramatically improve the protection, survivability, and mission capabilities of the Warfighter and of Warfighter-supporting platforms and systems through basic research on nanotechnology and by transitioning promising outcomes of that research in partnership with the Army, other US military services, and industrial companies.

This mission includes decreasing the weight that Soldiers carry, improving blast and ballistic protection, creating new methods of detecting and detoxifying chemical and biological analytes, providing physiological monitoring and automated medical intervention, and enhancing situational awareness.

To carry out this mission, the ISN has developed a diverse set of core S&T competencies strengthened by an operating model that emphasizes cutting edge research coupled with rapid transitioning through Army and industry partners, as well as startup companies fostered by MIT’s strong culture of entrepreneurship.



The ISN is an Army-supported University-Affiliated Research Center (UARC), and a product of the Army’s vision to explore the potential power of nanotechnology to enable unprecedented advances in Soldier protection and survivability. The ISN was designed to collaborate on basic and early applied research with Army and industry partners, and enable both to transition promising results. On March 12, 2002, the Army announced that it had selected MIT’s proposal from a host of submissions by some of the nation’s best colleges and universities, and the ISN was officially founded two days later on March 14, 2002. The official opening ceremony of the ISN dedicated facility was held on May 22, 2003.



Soldiers and other members of the US Armed Forces face many challenges in performing their diverse missions. Military threats include blast and ballistic impacts, chemical and biological weapons, radiological and other hazardous materials, directed energy weapons, nuclear devices, and electronic and cyber warfare. Beyond these threats, warfighters must function in varied climates and weather conditions, and in environments ranging from remote wilderness to densely populated cities. These conditions and venues present risks of personal injury and illness, significantly exacerbating already complex military challenges. Clothing, equipage, and platforms must provide high functionality while minimizing their size, weight, power demand, and cost (SWAP-C).
The breadth and depth of these challenges is documented in the following Army Modernization Priorities, each now one of the Cross-Functional Teams that help make up the U.S. Army Futures Command:

  • Long-Range Precision Fires
  • Next Generation of Combat Vehicles
  • Future Vertical Lift Platforms
  • Army Network
    • Network Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence
    • Assured Position Navigation and Timing
  • Air and Missile Defense Capabilities
  • Soldier Lethality
    • Soldier Lethality
    • Synthetic Training Environment

ISN research seeks to address each of these challenges with the exception of Synthetic Training Environment.